Following a winter wild camp using his oldest clothing and equipment, long-distance walking guru Chris Townsend reveals the secrets to making outdoor gear last for decades.
This is a paid partnership with our friends at Nikwax.
In the March 2023 issue of The Great Outdoors, heads for a sub-zero winter camp in the Creag Meagaidh massif of the Scottish Highlands, equipped only with his oldest and most enduring outdoor gear – including items which are more than 40 years old – to see how well it performs.
Here, Chris gives a rundown of all the clothing he used on the trip and how it performed. He also reveals how Nikwax products have been key to getting the most out of these products, enhancing their performance and prolonging their useable lifespans for a lot longer than you might think possible.
Main image: Putting the Paramo Aspira jacket to good use in snowy winter conditions | Photography: James Roddie
1. Páramo Aspira Nikwax Analogy jacket: In use since: 2001
The Aspira has been my first-choice winter jacket for over 20 years. At 885 grams it’s not that light, but the double-layer fabric is tough and warm. It’s also very breathable, keeps out snow and rain, and has a great design. I took it because I knew if the weather worsened I could rely on it for good protection.
To keep the Páramo Aspira jacket in good condition over the years and ensure that it continues to keep out snow and rain I wash it in Nikwax Tech Wash whenever it gets at all dirty, usually three or four times a year. This is important as dirt reduces both the breathability and the waterproofness. Once or twice a year I also treat it with Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In to restore water repellency, revive breathability and reduce water absorbency. I’ve found doing this very effective, which is why the Aspira still performs well after 21 years.
2. Páramo Mountain Pull-On: In use since: 2010
Twelve years old now, this 425g top was one of Páramo’s first fleece midlayers. It’s an over-the-head garment with a big pouch pocket and stud-fastened neck. I find it warm and comfortable but hadn’t worn it for a few years before this trip. I now wonder why not, as I found it excellent.
I did only wear it for a short while when walking as I was soon feeling hot with it on under the Aspira jacket, but I put it back on in camp and in combination with the Torres jacket it kept me warm at -7°C.
Whilst keeping the Aspira Jacket clean and proofed is key to comfort and protection, looking after midlayers, and accessories like hats and gloves, is important too. I wash this fleece in Nikwax Tech Wash and then treat it with Nikwax Polar Proof to keep it clean and water-repellent, so it stays breathable and doesn’t absorb much moisture so it dries faster when it does get wet.
3. Páramo Torres insulated jacket: In use since: 2011
This 11-year-old thick 695g synthetic insulated jacket is very warm and comfortable. The design is excellent. It’s sized to go over all your other garments so you can just pull it on when chilly or when you stop. On this trip I only wore it in camp, where it was especially useful when outside, star-watching during the night.
I also wash this jacket in Tech Wash and treated with TX.Direct Wash-In for the same reasons as I do the Aspira jacket, though not as often, as I don’t wear it as regularly and it rarely gets sweaty or dirty.
4. Páramo Waterproof Cap: In use since: 1998
I’ve been using this 70g hat regularly since 1998. Made from the same Nikwax Analogy fabrics as the Aspira jacket it’s very breathable and easily sheds snow and rain. I can’t fault it. I take it on every trip outside of hot summer days. I wore it the first day and it was as comfortable and effective as ever, no doubt thanks in part to regularly washing it over the years with Tech Wash and then treating it with Nikwax Polar Proof.
5. Páramo Casacada II trousers: In use since: 2019
These trousers – the third Nikwax Analogy garment I took on the trip – are by far the newest, being only four years old. Like the Aspira and the Cap, the trousers are very breathable, waterproof and comfortable. My Cascada II trousers are much newer than the Aspira jacket, but I treat them with Nikwax in the same way as I’d like them to last well too.
6. Helly Hansen Double-Pile jacket In use since: 1981
This 580g fibre-pile jacket is 41 years old and a veteran of my 1982 thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, where it was my only warm wear much of the time. It’s fluffy on both sides and very warm. In the morning it kept me warm at -3°C without anything over it. It’s not windproof so I donned the Aspira jacket over it when outside packing away the Trailstar. I have regularly washed this over the years with Tech Wash and then treated it with Nikwax Polar Proof.
7. Buffalo Mitts: In use since: 2012
I brought these 10-year-old warm, lightweight (80g) Pertex/pile mitts as backup to my thinner gloves. As I managed to soak both pairs of those putting up and taking down the Trailstar, I wore the mitts whenever my hands felt cold on the second day. They keep out the wind and dry quickly when wet.
Looking after accessories like these is important, and they are another item I have regularly washed with Nikwax Tech Wash and treated with Nikwax Polar Proof.
8. Outdoor Designs Windiush fleece hat: In use since: 2002
The 75g Windiush has been my favourite fleece hat for 20 years. It’s made from Polartec Wind Pro fleece with a wicking lining and is wind-resistant, breathable and warm. On this trip it was as comfortable as ever. I always take at least two hats in winter in case I lose or soak one. The Windiush and the Páramo Cap make a good combination. Again, I have sustained the life and performance of this hat by regularly washing it with Nikwax Tech Wash and treating it with Nikwax Polar Proof.
9. Brasher Hillmaster boots: In use since: 2012
I wear these mediumweight (1.4kg) boots regularly in winter if I’m not venturing on terrain verging on the technical. They’re 10 years old now but still in good condition as I wax them regularly. On this trip any snow on them just slid off.
Boots have a hard life, easily shortened if they’re not cared for properly. Ever since it first appeared in a tin 45 years ago, I’ve used Nikwax Waterproofing Wax on leather boots. It has kept these boots in good condition for a decade, which is a decent lifespan for footwear.
I rub the wax into the leather using the sponge applicator and then buff the leather with a cloth as a shiny finish repels water longer. If the boots are grubby I rinse them under a tap. When that doesn’t remove all the mud and grime I wash them with Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel. As with clothing, dirt has a negative effect on breathability and waterproofness. It can also damage the leather. Looking after the Hillmasters like this means they’re still in excellent condition.
The essentials: Nikwax products every outdoor enthusiast needs
- Nikwax Tech Wash: Technical cleaner for waterproof clothing. Easy to use in your washing machine or by hand.
- Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In: Easy to use wash-in waterproofing for all breathable waterproof clothing
- Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel: Speciality cleaner which will revitalise the water repellency of all waterproof footwear.
- Nikwax Polar Proof: The only waterproofer designed to protect and enhance the effectiveness of synthetic insulated clothing.
- Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather: Instant waterproofing wax for leather items, which will also restore breathability and maintain suppleness.